Bastille Day Fête

Ever since my last co-posting with Francophile friends Susan and Towny (The Modern Trobadors) on the art of making crêpes, I have been anticipating what collaboration would come next. I should have seen it coming - 'twas as plain as the nose on my face! Le Quatorze Juillet - Bastille Day - bien sûr!

I have never been in France for Bastille Day - the day of French independence - but it is the place I would love to be someday, when they are having a special celebration, when the fireworks and festivities will be more over-the-top than usual. The French truly understand the power and magnificence of celebrations, fireworks displays and, of course, food…!

This week, we are celebrating with a five-course meal, with a bit of Bastille Day history from Susan and Towny on The Modern Trobadors, and advice on our food and wine pairings, and cheese selection from Win Rhoades (proprietor of South Street and Vine, Portsmouth, New Hampshire). I spent many an hour with Win poring over the finest cheeses and wines; I miss having a his wonder-filled boutique cheese and wine shop here in Tucson.

Today, I have prepared a French-inspired menu.  In addition to the history as to why the French celebrate this day, Susan and Towny will also talk about the structure of a French meal, and why cheeses are consumed at the end of the meal, even after salad! Click below to see a video of Win chatting about his wine selections for the meal, and another of the cheeses he has selected for the cheese and fruit course.

One thing that I truly love about French cooking is that, as complex and time consuming as it can be, it can also be very simple and still maintain its elegance and French-ness. That is what we are going for this 14th of July, and I hope that we have succeeded. (Note: simplicity does NOT mean that these recipes are quick and easy. It means that they are made of few ingredients that are carefully put together to make each one shine in its own right. The only one of today's recipes that requires any real investment of time is the curried vegetable terrine - pictured above in various stages – but it will be worth your efforts, I promise!)

These recipes work beautifully for a Bastille Day celebration, but can be just as special for any summer celebration. Small portions are key to a multi-course meal, such as this. You want to be able to enjoy each bite, not worrying that you are already sated to the gills! 

We have chosen to make our feast a chilled one to combat the desert heat, which also makes for easy entertaining, as everything is done in advance. If you are planning a picnic for the holiday, a cooler filled with ice will help you transport these goodies to your destination.

Bon appétit, mes amis!

- David

The chilled plum soup is the first dish I ever made for Mark over 16 years ago - served with a lobster, corn and basil salad.  It is rich  both in color and taste and we find it simply addictive! It is a delightful starter, but can also be used as a dessert soup.

Soup aux Prunes Frais – Chilled Plum Soup

½ cup apple juice
¾ cup white wine
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground ginger
¾ pound purple/black plums, chopped (about 1½ cups)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
lemon slices and mint sprigs, for garnish

Bring juice, ½ cup of the wine, and spices to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan.  Add plums and boil until very soft – about 15 minutes. You will be surprised at how much color is released by the skins as the plums cook. Press mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a non-metallic bowl and discard solids.  Stir in sugar immediately and allow to cool completely.

Blend in remaining wine, cream and lemon juice.  Refrigerate until well chilled and serve in chilled bowls.  Garnish with a thin slice of lemon and a spring of mint, if desired

Serves 4 – can be doubled

This curried vegetable terrine was inspired by our trip to Provence with Susan and Towny in 2008. As always, the original recipe "needed" some tinkering and I think my version will delight you.It can be served plain, as seen here, or with a sauce; in this case our next course is sauced so I opted to forgo the sauce for this fête.

Terrine de Légumes au Curry – Curried Vegetable Terrine

2 pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into slices
8 large Swiss chard leaves, cut in half lengthwise, tough central stems removed
12 asparagus spears, trimmed to 8-inches and bottom parts of stalk peeled
16 green beans, trimmed at the ends
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then each half cut into 4 spears
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon best-quality curry powder
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
¼ cup water
16 grape tomatoes, halved

Fill a large soup pot with water and boil.  Cook the carrots for 25 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon; put them in the bowl of a food processor.  Using the same water, blanch the chard leaves for 10 seconds each, remove carefully with a slotted spoon and drain flat on paper towels.  In the same water, separately cook the asparagus spears, zucchini, and beans until tender – about 3-5 minutes for each, depending on their size.  Refresh the vegetables in iced water to keep their color.

Oil the interior of a terrine mold (8-inch x 3-inch x 3½-inch) and line with plastic wrap, leaving enough hanging over the edge to fold back over and cover the mold.  Line the mold with the chard leaves, leaving no gaps in bottom or sides, and leave excess hanging over to cover the top.

Purée the carrots with the crème fraîche in the processor.  Season well with curry powder, salt and pepper.  Put ¼ cup cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.  Leave for 5 minutes until spongy, then put the bowl over a pan of simmering water until melted and clear.  You may need to add another tablespoon or so of water to get the gelatin to the correct consistency.  Add to the carrot purée and mix well.

Spoon a quarter of the purée into the mold, then arrange six asparagus spears on top, followed by the zucchini in one flat layer.  Add another quarter of the purée and arrange the tomatoes, cut side up.  Spoon another quarter of the purée arrange the green beans followed by the remaining asparagus.  Finish up the carrot purée and then fold in the chard leaves and plastic wrap to cover.  Refrigerate overnight.  Unmold, remove plastic and cut into ½-inch to ¾-inch slices and serve with sauce, if desired. (The citrus cream used on the salmon below is a perfect accompaniment for this terrine.)

Serves 12.


The poached salmon is a classic. I love this method for poaching, as it results in a more tender piece of salmon that other methods. For this meal, I chose a light citrus cream (yogurt-based) sauce over the traditional fatty Hollandaise. 
Saumons Pochés, Crème Citron – Poached Salmon with Citrus Cream Sauce
Haricots Verts, Sauce Vinaigrette – French Green Beans in Vinaigrette

8 4-ounce center-cut salmon fillets, skinned
kosher salt
ground white pepper
6 cups water
2½ cups dry white wine
6 fresh bay leaves (or two dried)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Season salmon with salt and white pepper and set aside.  Pour water, wine, bay leaves and peppercorns into a large skillet, big enough to hold all the salmon pieces without crowding.  Bring to a boil.  Turn off heat. 

Place the fillets in the hot broth skin side up; let stand 6 minutes.  Turn salmon over in liquid; let stand 5 minutes.  Bring to a simmer and cook until salmon is just cooked through, about 30 seconds.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer salmon to platter.  Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours or up to 1 day.  Let salmon rise toward room temperature before serving.

Serves 8.

Crème Citron - Citrus Cream

1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
finely grated zest of 2 limes
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed orange juice
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon mild honey

Whisk all ingredients together at least 8 hours in advance of serving and refrigerate. Serve napped over the salmon or on the side.

Makes 1¼ cups. Remaining sauce makes a wonderful vegetable dip.

Haricots verts were one of the first traditional foods I recall learning about in French class. M. Stager insisted that they were so much better than the large, seedy variety we grow in the United States. Alas, he is correct! Their flavor is wonderful and they are much less stringy. For this meal, I have chosen to bundle them so that they resemble little bundles of firecrackers used here on the 4th of July and perhaps in France for Bastille Day!

Haricots Verts, Sauce Vinaigrette - Green Beans in Vinaigrette 

14 haricots verts per serving (a nod to Bastille Day!)
extra virgin olive oil
herb vinegar
1 10-inch chive per serving (a thin slice of leek will also work)

Steam green beans until just tender - about 4 minutes. Immediately place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. When cold, drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Place in a wide flat dish and season with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Toss gently to combine. Divide into bundle of 14 and gently tie together with all the tops facing the same way. Place on a plate and chill.

A cheese plate with seasonal fruits is the typical French way to transition from the main course to dessert, and Win's bleu, blanc et rouge version is ideal for Bastille Day - or the 4th of July! Having figs coming daily from our tree, we added an additional plate for them, with a few extra cheeses we had on hand. 

Plat de Fromage et de Fruit – Cheese and Fruit Plate

Cheese selection
  • Brillat-Savarin Affiné (triple cream from Normandy, France)
  • Roquefort Papillon (a grainy-yet-weeping blue from 
     Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France)
  • Fresh, local goat cheese
  • Queso Manchego (a sheep's milk cheese from La Mancha, Spain)

Fruit selection
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Figs, fresh from our tree

The mousse au chocolat came from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook and is credited to the wife of renowned poet and novelist, Joseph Delteil. It is the simplest mousse recipe I know of and contains no cream, helping to keep the fat content down a bit. Here is the page form her book with her very simple recipe.

Mousse au Chocolat – Chocolate Mousse

6 large eggs
8 ounces sweet chocolate, grated (German's Sweet Chocolate)
3 tablespoons water

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks and beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

Grate and melt the chocolate with the water in an 8-inch frying pan over low heat.  When smooth, add stirred yolks and continue to cook over low heat for 1 minute.

Using a spatula, scrape chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl.  Add a spoonful of the beaten egg whites and loosen the filling. Gently fold in the remaining whites and either turn into a decorative serving dish or into individual cups or glasses. Chill overnight.

Serves 6-8.

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